Star Wars Re-View: The Sequels

Somehow, Star Wars returned.

There’s an old saying that no-one hates Star Wars like Star Wars fans.

To be fair, that’s more an indictment about fandom in general. You could replace “Star Wars” with just about anything, and the statement would still be true.

Incidentally, there’s a reason I don’t really consider myself a “fan” of the things I enjoy.

Now, I bring this up because the general consensus is that the Sequels ruined Star Wars, which is perhaps mitigated by the fact that Star Wars has already apparently been ruined forever by, just off the top of my head: Leia kissing Luke, the Special Editions, the Prequels, the Yuuzhan Vong (who were admittedly pretty ridiculous), the postKnights of the Old Republic Old Republic-era storylines, Rebels, Resistance, or any other number of things.

Incidentally, bringing back the Emperor was not, in fact, new for the Sequels. It also happened in one of the old comics now relegated to the Legends canon. And stands as yet another example of something that irrevocably ruined the franchise.

I bring this up, because ever since the Disney purchase and the declaration that Star Wars has been ruined forever, I’ve often wondered what George Lucas thinks about this. How does he feel seeing the universe he created left to the whims of what is viewed by many as the soulless, corporate mass media company?

Honestly, I think he’s probably just glad it’s not his fault anymore.

All of this is to say, I actually liked the Sequels, and I don’t actually miss that much of the old Legends canon they’ve replaced. Because, really, there isn’t that much of it that’s actually worth missing…

For what’s it worth, I think there’s more bad than good in Legends. In the current canon, the only storytelling decision I legitimately don’t like is contriving a way to bring Darth Maul back from getting chopped in half and dropped down a bottomless pit.

The only silver lining to the whole debacle is that we got the best episode of Rebels out of it.

It was almost worth it…
Star Wars Rebels: Lucasfilm and Disney.

First things first, there is another Interquel period to deal with, though I don’t think I’ve delved enough into it for it to really merit its own separate post.

Obviously, The Mandalorian is phenomenal, to the point that it’s near-universally regarded as the high point of the post-Disney franchise. I don’t really need to go into the that much detail about it.

I liked Book of Boba Fett a lot more than most of the rest of the fanbase did (I’m noticing a pattern here), though I will concede it never quite lived up to its promise, and functioned more as The Mandalorian Season 2.5 than a concrete, standalone thing.

The Aftermath books started immediately after the end of Jedi and deal with the immediate consequences of the end of the Galactic Civil War. I’ve only read the first one, which foreshadowed or implied some of the characters and events later fleshed out in stuff like The Mandalorian. It was alright, but most of the characters kinda sucked.

Also, the author responded to the book’s negative reception by blowing up on Twitter, coming across as a complete raving tool, and subsequently getting booted by Disney. So, all in all, I never really felt compelled to read the other two.

The lesson here, kids, is don’t do Twitter.


On the other end of the timeline, there’s also the Resistance cartoon which ties in more immediately to the Sequel Trilogy. It’s at least an immediate enough prequel that the Resistance has been established and is active, as opposed to stuff like The Mandalorian, which is set during the early years of the New Republic.

I haven’t watched it yet, but the general consensus is that adult fans don’t seem to like it because it’s clearly intended to be a kids’ show, though apparently it picks up as it progresses and ultimately got cancelled too soon.

There’s also the video game Squadrons, which is a throwback to older Star Wars games like X-Wing and TIE Fighter that chronicles the fall of the Empire and the rise of the New Republic. It’s got a multiplayer focus that I’m not really interested in, so I’ve been waiting to see if I can pick it up for cheap to give the single-player a go.

There are some other books and comics to bridge the gap, but I haven’t read any of them, either. There’s just too much to keep up with and I don’t want to spend every waking hour of my life Star Wars-ing.

So, anyway, here’s the Star Wars Sequels.

So help me, Han, I will turn this blog around and there’ll be no Pop Culture critique for anyone!
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via giphy.

While I clearly like the Sequels a lot more than the fanbase at large, I’m not going to deny that they are imperfect movies. Most of the issues arise from the first two having different directors who didn’t really coordinate their long-term vision, the second being a source of major controversy, and then the third movie being basically scrapped, having its director reassigned, the director of the first movie getting the gig back and basically attempting to cram an entire trilogy’s worth of plot and corrections to the previous movie into the span of a single movie.

So, basically, it’s that meme of a drawing of a horse…

The meme of a drawing of a horse that gets worse as it progresses.
Image via imgflip.

…except Force Awakens is a third of a horse, Last Jedi is a motorcycle, and Rise of Skywalker is a quick, clumsy sketch of an entire horse…

Still, I don’t know if there’s more good than bad in the Sequels, but it’s at least not all bad.

The Force Awakens

So, funny story.

In brief, Star Wars isn’t my entire personality anymore, I’m not obsessed with it like I was when I was a kid, but it is still one of my two favourite fictional universes.

Star Wars isn’t my everything anymore, but it is still very personally meaningful to me.

So much so, that when I saw —

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via giphy.

— come up on screen in the theatre, I literally started crying tears of joy.

In fact, I’m tearing up a little right now…

I’m more mature and nuanced now than back in ’98 and I’ve realised that there is, in fact, more to life than Star Wars. But, much as was the case back with Phantom Menace, I was sitting there thinking that more Star Wars could only possibly be a good thing.

For the most part, I still think that. I won’t deny that the Sequels have issues, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoyed them.

That being said, Force Awakens is probably the only Sequel that is an unqualified success.

The most common criticism I’ve seen about Force Awakens is that’s too derivative of A New Hope. And, yeah, why would Disney try to cash on the nostalgia for the most nostalgia-heavy series in cinematic history?

But, seriously, I think it was something of a Catch-22 for Disney. Either it ends up being too much like former Star Wars and people complain, or it’s not enough like former Star Wars and people lose their minds, apparently (see, for example, the reception of The Last Jedi).

Yeah, maybe it’s a rehash of A New Hope. But it’s a thoroughly enjoyable rehash of A New Hope. And, honestly, I thinking cashing in on decades of nostalgia for the first new Star Wars in ten years is legitimately a brilliant decision.

Now, it’s been 30 years, so one thing is immediately apparent when the cast of the Original Trilogy shows up on screen:

I wouldn’t have been so blunt, but, yeah.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via giphy.

It’s also noticeable how obstinate the writers are about not referring to her as “Princess” Leia. I get it, “General” makes her more proactive and impressive, but she is also literally, actually, de facto a Princess. Also, ingrained in Pop Culture as “Princess Leia.”

The Last Jedi

I’m not sure if this has ever actually be a quote, per se, but there’s the principle in storytelling that the Bad Guys win battles, but the Good Guys win the (Star) wars. Basically, the Bad Guys need to win in the beginning and middle so that there’s actually conflict and drama, but then the Good Guys win to send the crowd home happily.

Last Jedi gets at least half of that…

The film literally starts off by informing us, via the opening text crawl, that the First Order has taken over the galaxy. Even though the Resistance won at the end of Force Awakens

And it goes downhill from there. The Resistance base gets blown up in six and half minutes. Kylo Ren’s faceless, nameless wingmen (not even Kylo himself) explodes most of the Resistance leadership, the bulk of the Resistance is killed off over the course of the movie until there’s, like, nine guys left. Luke dies. Kylo ends up even eviler than he was at the start of the movie.

A few potentially interesting named Resistance characters are introduced, and promptly killed off. Though eventually an actual new character is introduced in the form of Rose, whom I’m pretty sure gets more screentime than Rey. Unfortunately, Rose was not well-received as a character, which the Star Wars fanbase took with their typical good humour and grace.

No, just kidding. Poor Kelly Marie Tran got bullied off social media and Rose got, like, a line in Rise of Skywalker.

I mean, yeah, she feels a bit too much like a normal, real-world young adult and not nearly enough like a Star Wars character, but she’s plucky, sympathetic, and she’s just so sincere. Plus, her sister did just get exploded (I’m noticing a pattern here…) and anyone would be having an off day after that.

Sadly, Finn and Rose’s little escapade to Astro Monte Carlo — incidentally, one of the few things in the trilogy I actually share the larger fanbase’s contempt for — accomplishes nothing, and in, fact, accomplishes worse than nothing, because they get sold out by the just so implicitly trustworthy hacker (played by Benicio del Toro turning in a delightfully weird performance) they recruited, leading to the First Order blowing up basically the entire Resistance, Because Drama, I guess.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not mad that the Bad Guys win. I’m mad that they stay winning, that literally anything the main characters do just makes things even worse through contrived circumstances that I’m pretty sure are only happening Because Drama.

Again, it’s not what’s happening.

It’s that it’s unfolding in a completely contrived, unsatisfying way. Like, compare this to Empire, which was nearly an unqualified victory for the Empire — the sole exception really being that Luke didn’t join Vader, and even then he did get completely stomped during the lightsaber duel — and is regarded as one of the best movies of all time.

And because Last Jedi is such a grim, unrelenting “Bad Guy Wins”, there is a lot of really incongruous humour that 1) isn’t actually all that funny to begin with 2) is even less funny because it’s so out of place.

“Bad Guy Wins” is a pretty decent middle act, but there are bad ways to execute it.

On the other hand, I actually liked the thematic statements Last Jedi was making that seemed to turn most of the rest of the fanbase apoplectic.

Dude, why are you sassing me? You’re, like, the least popular character in the Sequels!
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via giphy.

I actually admire that they had the audacity commit to killing off the Original Trilogy characters in the Sequels. One of my biggest complaints with the Legends canon is that they never really let Han, Luke, and Leia step out of the spotlight and let a new generation of characters take over. In fact, the only really important Original Trilogy character who died was Chewbacca. Ironically, Chewie is the only one who doesn’t die in the current canon.

I get why this upset a lot of people. For a lot of kids who were my age, Luke Skywalker was bigger than Jesus. Honestly, for a lot of them, Luke probably was their Jesus.

Honestly, “don’t meet your heroes” is a good lesson to learn.

Though, on the other hand, his entire character arc in the movie was recovering his faith in the Jedi and the Resistance and re-commits to the cause to the extent of literally sacrificing his own life for it.

Real talk: I’m less mad about anything that happened to Luke than I am about Darth Maul coming back from getting chopped in half and dropped down a bottomless pit.

Because at least a person being emotionally crushed by the weight of his greatest failure is actually reasonable.

I will fully admit that Last Jedi has some dodgy storytelling and execution, though it does at least attempt some interesting thematic statements. And I get why those statements rubbed a lot people the wrong way.

But I don’t really understand the need to feel personally attacked by them. But, again, I’ve never really understood the decision to commit so much energy to stay mad about a movie.

Now, if only I could encapsulate the reception of Last Jedi in a single image…

But, seriously, there’s so many flavours. Why you gotta pick Salty?
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via giphy.

On the plus side, it’s a gorgeous movie. For example, this happens:

Admittedly, it’s rather more impressive in a theatre than as a gif…
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi: Lucasfilm and Disney.

And Kylo and Rey teaming up to fight Snoke’s guards, then fighting each other is a fantastic fight scene and a high point of the Sequels.

Except, apparently, it’s not, because people aren’t capable of enjoying things…

Yeah. I went there.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi: Lucasfilm and Disney.

Also, Last Jedi is probably Adam Driver’s best performance as Kylo Ren, to the point that the direction they took his character in Rise of Skywalker is a real let-down, especially when fully committing to the Dark Side and the First Order provided a pretty interesting thematic contrasted to Vader’s whole “There’s still good in him” thing.

The Rise of Skywalker

So, the little droid’s name is D-O. And, uh, every time he was on screen, I’d start singing Holy Diver to myself…
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker: Lucasfilm and Disney.

Fundamentally, Rise of Skywalker had a lot to contend with before it even hit theatres. The production of the movie had to follow both the controversy and fandom apoplexy surrounding Last Jedi (see above), and the real-world tragedy of Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016.

Originally, Rise of Skywalker was planned to be “Leia’s” movie, in the way Force Awakens was Han’s and Last Jedi was Luke’s. Of course, that was no longer an option and there was no real good way to write around Carrie Fisher’s absence.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker: Lucasfilm and Disney.

Recasting Princess Leia would have likely been one of the most controversial film-making decisions of all time, and would have only tossed gasoline onto a fanbase that was already on fire after Last Jedi. Rogue One-esque 3D chicanery to digitally recreate a Princess Leia would have only been marginally better. And just offhandedly going “Oh, by the way, Princess Leia died between movies” would have also been poorly received, especially when the movie was offhandedly going “Oh, by the way, the Emperor came back between movies” already…

Fortunately, there was unused footage of Princess Leia and Rey from the previous movies that was inserted into Rise of Skywalker that did help to make writing off Princess Leia a little less clumsy than that, and at least Kylo Ren got something of a character arc from the close of the Princess Leia arc we did get.

Rise of Skywalker also had to contend with basically being torn down and built from the ground up before it even got to the production stage. Originally, Colin Trevorrow (of Jurassic World fame/infamy) was attached to the project and turned in a script that has since made its way onto the Internet, and was then promptly canned over creative differences that have not yet been elaborated upon.

This lead to J.J. Abrams being brought back to re-write and direct the new version of Episode IX.

Now, because the Episode IX we got was Rise of Skywalker, a lot of people are acting like Colin Trevorrow is a misunderstood, mistreated genius. Though, I think 1) grass is always greener, and all, and 2) it’s hard to compare an actual movie to a script that didn’t make it past a first draft.

And trust me on this, there are no good first drafts.

For what it’s worth, Rise of Skywalker is tied with Phantom Menace (and just .1 lower than Attack of the Clones) for lowest-ranked Star Wars movie on IMDB. On the other hand, it was an 86% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes — higher than any of the Prequels and more than double Last Jedi, and actually one percent higher than Force Awakens.

Overall, like I’ve said, Rise of Skywalker sort of feels like an entire trilogy crammed into the runtime of a single movie. Basically, everything in Last Jedi is disregarded, which means we’re essentially back to square one.

Rise of Skywalker doesn’t necessarily succeed on the weight of sheer spectacle, but the sheer spectacle of Rise of Skywalker is a part of the movie which succeeds through its sheer weight..

I didn’t necessarily hate the story beats, they just needed to be expanded over more than one movie to really stick the landing. Honestly, if you took the basic storyline of “Oh no! The Emperor’s back!” —> “How do we stop him?” —> “Climactic final battle to stop him” and stretched it out and filled in the gaps that would inevitably leave, there’s actually a basis for a pretty decent trilogy here.

Though, of course, the ended up trying to cram a trilogy’s worth of story into a single movie. This is what you get when your trilogy is the singular vision of eight different people with no singular vision…

Rise of Skywalker is a flawed movie, but the presentation is overawing enough that you may just be able to set that aside, at least in the moment. I very clearly remember sitting in the theatre thinking to myself “This movie is a mess, but, actually, I kinda dig it.”

For example, when we got “Literally the Entire Galaxy vs. the Bad Guys”, I may have teared up a little…
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker: Lucasfilm and Disney.

As actually presented in Rise of Skywalker, yes, “Somehow, Palpatine returned.” is ridiculous. As a plot device for a Star Wars sequel, it isn’t actually a terrible idea.

The Sith religion is literally based on cheating death. It isn’t really surprise that the Evil Space Warlock to end all Evil Space Warlocks actually found a way to cheat death.

Of course, basically anywhere but the start of the last movie is a better to place to introduce it. If, for example, the last line of the first movie, rather than the first line (technically, the text crawl at the opening) had been “Oh no! The Emperor’s back!”, the reveal might have actually had some weight.

And, like I said, “Oh no! The Emperor’s back!” —> “How do we stop him?” —> “Climactic final battle to stop him” would have been a decent story arc for the Sequels. And the Emperor coming back probably would have been received better if it had been introduced that the end of the first movie in the trilogy, rather than off-screen for the last movie in the trilogy.

Or got explained at any meaningful length.

But, alas. Much like a coherent singular vision across the three movies, it was not to be.

I, uh, I might be going to back to that particular well a lot before I’m done with this post…

The silver lining, such as it is, is that Ian McDiarmid is yet again clearly having the time of his life.

Re-watching the Sequels, I’m honestly just glad I’m so easily-entertained. I acknowledge that at least two of the three have not-insubstantial flaws, but I will also unashamedly admit that I can actually sit down, watch them, and enjoy them. There are at least three Star Warses better than the Sequels, but I also don’t feel the need to delude myself into insisting that the Sequels never happened to avenge the honour of the series.

On the most fundamental level, by the end of Rise of Skywalker, I feel like the Sequels wasted everyone not named Chewbacca, who is once again nicely filling the niche of “fourth-most important character.” Finn and Poe never really got a chance to do anything, everybody hated Rose, so she got written out of the trilogy. Kylo Ren’s Face Turn didn’t go anywhere, and then he died.

30 seconds later, Kylo Ren will turn Face, renounce the Dark Side, get zero lines of dialogue, and then die.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker: Lucasfilm and Disney.

Even Rey, the indisputable main character of the Trilogy didn’t really have a satisfying character arc, largely due to her intended character getting re-written each movie.

She’s either sad about her character arc, or worried if she left the stove on…
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker: Lucasfilm and Disney.

And, of course, everyone lost their minds when she ended up not only as destined to restore the Jedi, but also proclaimed the last remaining Skywalker.

Pretty much.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via giphy.

On the other hand, it only took him 30 years, but Harrison Ford finally got to kill off Han Solo. So, good for him, I guess.

I know a lot of people (at least on the Internet) were pulling for Poe and Finn to end up as couple. Personally, I don’t think they had nearly enough chemistry, or even just screentime, together to pull it off. I was pulling for Finn and Rey to end up together, which seemed to be where they were going after Force Awakens.

But, honestly, I’m just glad Rey and Poe didn’t end up together, because that would have been the worse possible option. They, had, like three lines of dialogue together…

A scene from "Rise of Skywalker." Rey and BB-8 watching the sunset on Tatooine.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker: Lucasfilm and Disney.

Fundamentally, the Celebration —> Deconstruction —> Reconstruction story arc was right there. But, again, there was no major, overarching plan to actually execute this. Instead, we got two movies that don’t really fit together and then three movies crammed into the space of one movie to make up for it.

There’s a lot of wasted potential here, and a lot of cheques the filmmakers couldn’t (or actively chose not to) cash, due in large part, again, to the lack of singular vision and tendency to over-correct the things the fanbase didn’t like. But they look cool, they do have some good ideas, and the continuity they’re replacing wasn’t actually that good. You were just younger and dumber.

And the silver lining, of course, is that we got shirtless Adam Driver consistently and thoroughly…

And there you have it, J.B. Norman’s journey through the entire Star Wars Saga.

I don’t really have anymore pithy one-liners to add at this point, or really anything else to add, so I guess let me sum up by saying that I still like Star Wars and even while acknowledging the bad, I contend that there is still more good than bad.

Fundamentally, watch them at least once. Star Wars is one of the most significant media franchises of all time, but it’s also for the most part, one of the most enjoyable.

Check out this week’s chapter here:

But also, to keep up with everything else I’m writing about, right here…

Dunstana Darkstone, grinning and giving a thumbs-up.

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